West Philly Square Dance

The West Philly Square Dance happens monthly on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Live old-time music, all dances are called, and everyone is welcome.  My friends Mark Kilianski and Amy Alvey of Hoot and Holler were the band this past Friday along with dance caller Donna Hunt, so I decided to do a short interview with them about square dancing and their musical travels.

I’ll be playing the October 20th dance with my pals as the False Hearted Chickens (John Salmon, Chris Dalnodar, Michael Foster and Jeff McLeod).  See you there!

Folk Dance in Budapest

“Táncház, which translates as “dance house” is “a “casual” Hungarian folk dance event (as opposed to stage performances). It is an aspect of the Hungarian roots revival of traditional culture which began in the early 1970s, and remains an active part of the national culture across the country, especially in cities like Budapest. The term is derived from a Transylvanian tradition of holding dances at individual’s homes.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Táncház)

Táncház events are all over Budapest and every evening of my trip this past March was spent dancing and listening to folk music.   I had the good fortune of having local musician friends point me towards places to go and I want to pass this information on to other travelers headed to Hungary.

The best online resource to find Hungarian folk music and dance events is folkradio.hu.  Thanks to sites like Google translate, you can put in the web address and it will give you a decent translation of the event calendar.  Another English language site is www.ruinpubs.com that has a huge list of bars and music clubs.  Venues are always changing, so please, always check ahead of time. 

To give you an idea of what you will see and hear, below are some videos I took at the events I attended.  Enjoy!

This video turned out very blurry, but I love the effect:



Bahto Delo Delo: Roma Music from Clejani, Romania

I came across a Taraf de Haidouks CD in 1999 at a record shop, really liked the photo on the cover, and wore the disc out from repeated listening.  I was really excited that Marin “Tagoi” Sandu’s band, Bahto Delo Delo was to perform at Martyrs’ in Chicago. on July 11.  Sandu is the son of Nicolae Neacsu, one of the founding members of Taraf de Haidouks, and you can clearly hear the influence in his music.

The band’s Facebook page describes themselves as:

an authentic Roma…group from the village of Clejani in southern Romania, a village famous for its virtuoso Roma musicians. Bahto Delo Delo shares the fast and delicate, and slow and soulful melodies of rich Roma music tradition with audiences around the world. “Bahto Delo Delo” means “May God give you good luck” in Roma…dialect and said when drinking together.  (https://www.facebook.com/bahtodelodelo Follow them on Facebook!)

Also performing that night was Chicago cimbalom virtuoso Nicolae Feraru.  The Chicago Tribune wrote a fantastic article about him being awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.  I won’t go on about the music.  Just listen:

Jason Hathaway Plays Folk’N’Blues


Indianapolis based Jason Hathaway describes his music as Folk’n’Blues and I think that description is just about right.  His acoustic and electric performances are full of energy, fun, and a bit of music history about the songs as well.  I’m happy to say Jason and I go way back as college buddies in Terre Haute, IN and I have loved seeing his music evolve since then.  I stopped in the Upland Tasting Room to see him playing with his long-time mentor, Rev. Charlie Edmonds.

Growing up in Paris, Illinois Jason mostly listened to rock until his father gave him a Howlin’ Wolf tape in middle school- a gift he describes as a turning point for him musically.  I think his dad deserves a good parenting award for that present:

Jason taught himself to play on his Epiphone guitar starting in 8th grade and then took lessons in Terre Haute with Brett Cantrell (of Indy based band Phyllis).  He learned a lot of rock, including, of course, Stairway To Heaven, but he remembers distinctly asking Brett to teach him some Howlin’ Wolf.  He’s never looked back and his powerful voice belts out some of the best blues I’ve heard.  You should absolutely check out his music whenever possible.   Click here for Jason’s Website, his electric band The Bastard Hounds, and like his Facebook profile.


Joe Dawson, Master Fiddler from Bloomington, Indiana


I’ve been meaning for a long time to write a post about my favorite fiddle player.  Joe Dawson was a master fiddler, carpenter, farmer, and a man of numerous other talents.  Joe’s repertoire of old-time fiddle tunes is totally unique, 100% Indiana and he taught them to a lucky circle of people who visited him at his weekly living room jam in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was one of these lucky folks and had the pleasure of jamming with Joe for over a decade.  Many of his tunes would be considered “crooked” (not in equal amount of measures or beats for each phrase) and could be very tricky to catch.   Here is a set of Joe’s tunes of played by Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet:

Joe passed away May 11, 2012 and he and his music are missed greatly.  Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet, Joe’s adopted family who spent countless hours playing music with Joe and recording his tunes and memories, wrote this lovely tribute:

Joe Dawson, master carpenter and fiddler, and long-time resident of Prospect Hill, passed away at Hospice House in Bloomington on May 11, 2012 at the age of 84. In his last days he was surrounded by his dearest friends.  He was predeceased by his beloved wife Lela (Pate) Dawson, his sister Mildred Wells and his parents Cletus Dawson and Myrtle Dawson Walker.  Joe was born in Bedford, Indiana on April 22, 1928. When Joe was ten his father died in an accident, and his mother moved to Bloomington to find employment. Joe’s sister lived with his mother while Joe went to live with his mother’s parents, Jasper and Ida Chambers, on their 140 acre farm on the Monroe/Brown Country line.Though money was extremely scarce, Joe and his grandparents were able to provide for almost all their needs by growing their own food, raising livestock, bartering eggs for supplies and by hewing and selling railroad ties. Years later, most of the farm was submerged by the formation of Lake Monroe. Due to the responsibilities of helping his disabled grandfather on the farm, Joe did not have to serve in World War II, but he was drafted to fight in the Korean War and saw heavy combat. Early in life Joe picked up carpentry skills from his father, and after the war he worked for a time at Showers Brothers Furniture. He soon moved on to work for Superior Lumber, Pritchett Brothers Construction and CFC Incorporated. As a master carpenter he was indispensable in the building of hundreds of important structures in Bloomington and beyond, including Beck Chapel, Fountain Square Mall, and the Graham Plaza Hotel. On the side, for a time, he raised hogs on his farm near Adel in Owen County.  As a masterful fiddler, Joe kept alive a beautiful and important repertoire of traditional music from Monroe and Brown Counties, music that has many of its deeper roots in Kentucky and the larger Appalachian mountain region. He learned this music from the fiddle playing of his grandfather, Jasper Chambers, as well as from other relatives and neighbors, while living on the family farm. He passed that music along to many younger musicians who continue to play it today. The Thursday night music sharing sessions that he convened in his living room for many years were a joy for those who were lucky enough to gather there to learn the tunes and all the stories and lore that went with them. Recordings of Joe’s fiddling and anecdotes will soon be deposited in the IU Archives of Traditional Music in Bloomington.

The recordings of Joe have been submitted to the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music in Bloomington, Indiana and will be available online through there website in the near future.  What a treasure!  I love playing and teaching Joe’s tunes to other people and I recorded three of them on my new CD, Kitchen Fiddle.  I hope many people listen to, learn and treasure Joe’s music for years to come.

Hoosier Fiddlers Film Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but a lot has been going on.  I’ve been working on a new film project: Hoosier Fiddlers: A Documentary Celebrating Indiana’s Fiddle Traditions.  The film is currently in production and I am spending lots of time interviewing and recording fiddlers from around the state.  It has been a lot of fun meeting new musicians and learning more about the ones I already knew.

Three of the featured musicians, Dena El Saffar, Julane Lund, and Lee Mysliwiec, play very different styles of folk music and I think some people will be surprised at the diversity of styles of fiddling here in Indiana.

Dena El Saffar is a founding member of the band Salaam “which has delighted audiences for years with its expansive repertoire of Middle Eastern and North African music…Iraqi-American band leader Dena El Saffar’s compositions take advantage her own eclectic musical upbringing to create a sound rooted in maqam (the modal system used throughout the Middle East), with tasteful forays into Latin, African, Balkan, Rock, Blues, and Classical styles”.(www.salaamband.com)

I met Lee Mysliwiec, also of Bloomington, Indiana, at a weekly old-time in 2001.  I love his fiddle playing and his attitude about life as well. He is a patient and excellent teacher and is really well known at Clifftop (Appalachian String Band Festival) for his free fiddle and banjo lessons and you will often find him busking on the streets of Bloomington.

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Julane Lund plays traditional Norwegian music on the Hardanger fiddle and Norwegian-American tunes on the regular fiddle. I met Julane at the Indiana State Fair Fiddle Contest, sponsored by Traditional Arts Indiana, in 2006.  We ended up in a tie for first place and had to do a play off where Julane won.  It was very dramatic!  I also learned that she lived only 5 miles from my house- I couldn’t believe my luck!  She’s a wonderful musician and has travelled all over the world with her music, including BashkortostanJulane Lund

Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention

After Clifftop, I was going to go home, but why not hit another festival? I headed over to the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax, VA.  These two festivals were pretty different: Clifftop = woodsy camp with small stage in a field & mostly old-time.  Galax (click for lovely photos from VirginiaFolklife.org) = you drive up and see a huge field/parking lot of campers and tents surrounding a stage with stadium seating with a larger variety of music styles from bluegrass to swing.  Plenty of jamming, but like Clifftop, you miss out if you don’t walk around to listen as much as you play.  I met tons of dedicated folks that have been coming to Galax every year and many have already cleared their calendar for next year’s festival. Once again, I LOVE the fact that all ages are playing and competing in the contest and many of the younger players are unbelievably great!  I recorded some of the jams on my phone and have just started to sort through them all.  Since my recordings are a mess, here are some YouTubes to give you an idea (thanks to the folks who posted these on the YouTube site!):

Reuben’s Train jam with flatfoot:

This year they attempted to break the Guiness record for the largest mandolin ensemble:


After 2 years of failed attempts (car problems, etc.) I finally made it to Clifftop in West Virginia for the old-time music festival.  The official name is The Appalachian String Band Festival but everyone refers to it as Clifftop.  It is old-time jamming overload and it was wonderful!  I really appreciate being at a festival where people of all ages and abilities are present.  I had a great time playing but was just as happy walking around and listening.  There were people from all over the US and I met folks from England, Australia, & Sweden. I didn’t get many photos but I did record lots of sound (what’s really important, in my opinion).  Here is a YouTube of some lovely pictures of Clifftop from this year:

And here is a SoundCloud of a late night jam:

Hoosier Fiddlers Film: A Documentary Celebrating Indiana’s Fiddle Traditions


I am excited to announce a new film project I am working on: Hoosier Fiddlers: A Documentary Celebrating Indiana’s Fiddle Traditions.  The film is currently in production and I am spending lots of time interviewing and recording fiddlers from around the state.  It has been a lot of fun meeting new musicians and learning more about the ones I already knew.  Stay tuned for updates and visit my Facebook page.

Pótkulcs, 1067 Budapest, Csengery utca 65b, Hungary

If you love folk music, the question is not “Should I go to Budapest?” but rather “Have I checked the airfares today?”.   I was introduced to Hungarian folk music through folklorist friend David Stanley while visiting him in Budapest.  On any night of the week there is an amazing number of concerts and events going on in the city.  Dave knew the best things to see and do and, even better, spoke way more Hungarian than me.  I saw a concert of the beloved band Muszikas and went to a táncház (literally “dance house”) which is a traditional dance event that features live music and folk dances.  I loved it!

I went back to Budapest in 2013 and wanted to find more music on my own.  Never mind that I spoke 3 Hungarian words at the time (its not really a language you can fake your way through).  Why didn’t I do research beforehand?  Most of the sites I found were in Hungarian and made no sense when I Google translated them.  But I don’t think that’s a reason to stay home and went anyway.

I stayed at the Homemade Hostel, which is nothing short of fabulous, and the staff pointed me in the right direction. I walked to Potkulcs, one of Budapest’s many romkocma, or “ruin pubs”, that features folk music.  Here’s what I found:

I  sat with a beer for all of 5 minutes before a group invited me to sit with their table and soon after we all joined in the dance.  Some of these dances are much easier to learn than others so you have to be your own best judge.  A person I spoke with suggested I go to a dance the next night at Gondozó Kert with music by Jam de Strune and I saw some familiar faces from the night before.  I’m sure it could have continued after that with more recommendations as it seems you can be out for music 7 nights a week if you so choose.

Upland Tasting Room, 4842 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN ‎ (317) 602-3931

Looking in on New Augusta Bluegrass Band from College Ave.

The Upland Tasting Room, an extension of the brewery in Bloomington, IN, serves excellent beer, welcomes dogs, and best of all (besides the beer!) they support local acoustic/folk music.  There is a traditional Irish session every Sunday, 6-9:30 p.m., and most Fridays and Saturdays feature songwriters and bluegrass.  New Augusta Bluegrass Band  is a regular on the calendar and they were tearing it up this past Friday when I visited.  Upland doesn’t serve food aside from pretzels, but you are welcome to take in from the places around.  This is an easy place to lose track of time, chit-chat, try several types of beer.  There’s no cover so be generous when tipping musicians and bar staff if we want to see this kind of music supported for a long time to come.  Once again, Folkfestfinder highly rates the Upland Tasting Room for its choice to support music and conversation over television. If you want to get a feel for what the place is like, here is a short video (note: FolkFestFinder is working on her video skills!):

Irish Session at Fergie’s Pub, Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA

I love Philadelphia, and when in Philly, I go to Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St., on Saturday from 4-7 p.m. In the corner of the downstairs bar is the best traditional Irish music around. The mood at Fergie’s is beyond cozy and the jigs, reels, and banter are fierce and energetic.

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Philadelphia has loads of fantastic Irish musicians and this is a regular spot for some of the best.  The session has been held down by guitarist Darin Kelly since it began 11 years ago.  It’s best to get there early as it can get crowded; some days are standing room only.  The exchange of tunes between the musicians never dominates over patrons conversations; this is an unamplified affair.  Kudos to the proprietors as there is not 1 TV in the whole place-a rarity in this day and age.  Another pint? Of course!

Mariachi @ Adobo Grill, 110 E Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204


Every Thursday at Adobo GrilMariachi Sol Jalisciense performs from 6:30-9 p.m.-(which is also 1/2 price margarita night). Conversation is easy as the band plays with no amplification.  I love that Mariachi Sol Jalisciense  are great musicians and true entertainers- they sometimes stroll the restaurant to serenade tables and celebrate birthdays.  The guitarist, Alex, said the band they plays traditional music from Jalisco, Mexico mixed in with other popular tunes (I heard a Mariachi version of “Rocky Top” this past Thursday).  I really appreciate the singing in this band with its robust tone and clean harmonies.

Regarding cuisine, Adobo has gotten some great reviews and is well known for its guacamole, which is prepared by your table, hot or mild as you like it.  I ordered a margarita, and another (I was having such a great time, why not?), and their Chocolate Tamal, which is a bit like a molten chocolate cake cooked tamale-like in a corn husk.IMG_1254

I will definitely be going back to hear Mariachi Sol Jalisciense at Adobo Grill.  Live Mariachi music,  hip lighting and decor, well-prepared food and drink, and friendly staff all contribute to a great night out at Adobo.

Irish Session @ The Golden Ace Inn, 2533 E Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46201

The Golden Ace Inn, Indianapolis, IN  This eastside bar has been owned by the McGinley family since 1934.  The weekly Irish session, begun in 1999 by Doug Lammer, is hosted by Jim and Kate Smith and Jenny Thompson, and has been strongly supported by the McGinleys throughout the years.  A group of dedicated sessioneers ensure a lively evening with high quality musicianship each Tuesday from 8-10p.m. (often later).

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The decor is nostalgic and homey, the music always lively, and the budget-friendly burgers ($3.75, including chips) are fantastic and rated as “One of Indy’s Tastiest Burgers” by the Indianapolis Star.  You will be met with classic Midwestern friendliness and will feel welcome at this bar (I may be a little biased hailing from Indiana myself!).

The session focuses on traditional Irish dance tunes: jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and slides with the odd song thrown in.  Make no mistake, this isn’t an open “jam” but a traditional Irish session that is friendly to listeners and newcomers who understand (or are willing to learn about) the tradition.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos that feature the session as well as the owner of the bar talking about its history: